Stratfor: The US and jihadist strategy in Pakistan


On Monday, Pakistani security forces secured a key naval aviation base in Karachi after a 17-hour standoff with a team of jihadist operatives. Details remain sketchy of how this group, composed of as few as six and as many as 20 militants, was able to make its way into the high-security facility to destroy one U.S. supplied P-3C Orion anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft and damage a second. What is clear, however, is that this latest attack is among the most significant to have targeted the country’s military establishment since the jihadist insurgency intensified in 2007.

The attack comes within three weeks of the U.S. unilateral military operation that killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden at a compound a mere three-hour drive from the capital. The discovery that the al Qaeda leader had been residing in a house for years at walking distance from the country’s military academy reinforced long-held international suspicions that elements within the Pakistani military-intelligence complex were sheltering al Qaeda’s apex leadership. The attack on the navy in Karachi shapes another related perception that the country’s security forces are unable to protect their own assets from jihadist attacks.

We have a paradoxical situation in which enemies of the state are being protected by elements within the security establishment, which itself as an institution is the target of the same jihadists. This warped situation works well for the strategic objectives of al Qaeda and its allies within the South Asian nation. Pakistani jihadists and their al Qaeda allies are happy to see the United States and the international community increase pressure on Islamabad and more important, engage in increased unilateral operations inside the country due to the lack of confidence in Islamabad’s intent and/or capability to deal with the situation on its own.

The ultimate jihadist dream is to create the circumstances in which the United States invades Pakistan either because of the fear that the Pakistanis have become weak to the point that they are unable to contain the jihadist threat, or worse, that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons were in danger of falling into the hands of radical forces. Each attack the jihadists launch against Pakistani security forces is designed to augment the American perception of threat. Demonstrating that the jihadists have significantly penetrated the country’s security organs further shapes this dynamic.

A U.S. invasion of Pakistan is the ideal outcome for the jihadists because they know that short-term American goals may undermine the state, but the long-term geopolitical interest of the United States in Pakistan is a strong Pakistan. So, they are happy to settle for increasing U.S. unilateral operations in the country. These, the jihadists hope, would help increase the anti-American sentiment and aggravate the mutual mistrust between Washington and Islamabad. The more the United States becomes aggressive toward Pakistan, the more it undermines the Pakistani state and its ability to govern a country that has already been significantly weakened by deteriorating political, security and economic conditions.

The jihadists have never been able to overthrow a sitting government in any Muslim country because they lack the capabilities to do so. But a template exists in the form of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in the mid-1990s when the country was in a state of chaos after years of civil war. The jihadists use this model wherever they operate — Iraq, Yemen, Somalia — with the goal of gradually eroding the incumbent state.

A key catalyst in this regard is U.S. military intervention, which from the jihadists’ point of view cannot be totally dismissed in the Pakistani context. Increasing U.S. action in Pakistan or pressure on Islamabad could lead to rifts within the military-intelligence complex — the one entity that stands in the way of jihadists’ being able to take over the state. In other words, the jihadist attacks on their own are not capable of bringing down the Pakistani state, and al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban are aware of this.

Therefore, these attacks are designed to exacerbate fears that Pakistan is a failing state and gradually compel the United States to increase its overt and unilateral military and intelligence footprint in the country. The Sept. 11 attacks were designed to achieve the same goal and force the United States to invade Saudi Arabia. Washington didn’t take the bait and instead sent forces into Afghanistan and Iraq, thwarting the jihadist strategy.

A decade later, however, the jihadists seem to be creating the kind of circumstances in which the United States is slowly being pushed into Pakistan. Ironically, the Pakistani security establishment, which historically has cultivated Islamist militants for its foreign policy objectives, is now the only force standing in the way of the country descending into a jihadist anarchy. For the jihadists, the most effective way of weakening the Pakistani state is to play upon American fears and force it into a country of 180 million people.

From the point of view of al Qaeda and its allies, Pakistan, along with Afghanistan, would make for one large Talibanistan, which would have catastrophic implications for the region and the world at large. Thus, there is a method to the jihadist madness in Pakistan — to get the United States to help them achieve what they can’t on their own. Therefore, bin Laden’s death, at the hands of American forces engaged in an unprecedented unilateral action on Pakistani soil, may have helped the jihadist cause in a way that the life of the al Qaeda founder could not.

This report published from Stratfor,